Amnesty Intl. urges Canada to act on U.S. 'return-to-Mexico' migration policy
Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill on April 27, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 31, 2019 2:35PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 31, 2019 4:37PM EST
WASHINGTON -- The latest U.S. gambit to deal with what the White House likes to call a security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border proves Canada can no longer consider the United States a safe place to send asylum seekers, says human-rights group Amnesty International.
Beginning Monday, the Trump administration introduced a new "remain-in-Mexico" approach, officially known as "Migrant Protection Protocols," that requires asylum seekers to wait on the Mexican side of the border, instead of in the U.S., while their refugee claims make their way through the American court system.
It fundamentally contradicts the principles underlying a similar policy in Canada, said Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada -- one of several human-rights emissaries who were taking part in a multinational fact-finding mission this week at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Canada maintains the absurd fiction that the U.S. is safe and rights-regarding when it comes to asylum seekers," Neve said Thursday during a conference call from El Paso, Tex.
For two years, Canada has experienced an influx of "irregular" migrants from the U.S. -- Conservatives and other immigration hawks prefer the term "illegal" -- ever since the Trump administration took steps to end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of people living in the United States. Temporary protected status prevents people from being sent back to particular countries afflicted by armed conflicts or natural disasters, such as Honduras, Haiti and Yemen, but the U.S. has been taking countries off the list.
Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between the two countries, anyone seeking asylum in Canada who tries to enter from the United States at an official border crossing is turned away on the grounds that they can safely make a claim for refugee status in the U.S. and there's no need to get into Canada. To avoid that fate, thousands of people have taken to trudging through forests and fields to ask for asylum on Canadian soil.
Since early 2017, about 35,000 asylum-seekers have filed refugee claims with Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the issue of immigration at the southern border is dominating the American political consciousness. The federal government was shut down for 35 days during the president's ongoing dispute with Democrats on Capitol Hill over his demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall to stanch the flow of arrivals.
The shutdown -- price tag: $11 billion -- ended last week when Trump blinked in his staring contest with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The two sides continue to negotiate ahead of the president's new Feb. 15 deadline, but no one Thursday was holding out much hope of a deal.
"There's not going to be any wall money in the legislation," Pelosi told her weekly news conference.
"If there's no wall, it doesn't work," Trump later countered from the Oval Office. "She's just playing games."
The president has hinted he'd be willing to shut down the government again Feb. 15 without a deal, but a declaration of a national emergency -- a legally dubious strategy, but one that would give him access to Department of Defense funding without going through Congress -- is generally considered the most likely outcome.
That sort of rhetoric, coupled with the fact the U.S. is sending would-be refugee claimants back to Mexico, is proof that the Trump administration has nothing but disdain for the human rights of migrants, said Neve, who is repeating his demand that Ottawa suspend its agreement with the U.S.
"The assumption here is Mexico is safe, which it most assuredly is not," he said. The U.S. has said it would screen claimants to make sure no one at risk of persecution is sent back, but the criteria for that process remains unclear.
"This is what borders have become in North America for refugees seeking safety and protection. In no way, by no measure, is the United States living up to its national and international obligations with respect to protecting and upholding the rights of refugees and migrants," Neve said.